Path To Simple

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$5K to retirement in 9 years: How a New Yorker retired before 30

A sunset over a lavender field in Drôme, France.

A Purple Life (APL) is the one-woman show behind apurplelife.com, a truly awesome blog that stays true to its tagline of Finance, Travel, Food.

APL started blogging in 2015 but didn’t make her blog public until 2018. The blog is essentially an open book of her journey from zero to early retirement, which she achieved in 2020 at the age of 30.

Topics covered include annual spending reports, net worth updates, corporate America and the whys behind early retirement, tools and tips for traveling and reaching financial independence, travel hacking, and, lately, lots of travel updates as APL makes her way around the world.

I love seeing how people manage their money and APL’s success and life story make her a great subject for a case study.

If you’re looking to become financially independent, APL is a great role model to follow. And in this post I’ll break down who APL is and how she got to where she is.

Who is APL?

APL is a black, bisexual woman in her thirties (with purple hair). She’s in a long-term relationship (they have separate finances) and they don’t plan on getting married or having kids.[1]

APL worked in advertising and marketing and has never owned (nor is planning on ever owning) a house, a car, or pets.

APL’s journey to early retirement

APL’s journey started in 2012 when she graduated from college and took a marketing job in New York City.

The job paid $35,000 and her rent was $1,066.66 per month for a three-bedroom apartment that she split with her partner and a friend.

On her mom’s suggestion, APL started contributing to her 401k. And she worked hard to earn a promotion.

Unfortunately, both the job and the apartment quickly turned into a nightmare.

The job had a toxic brag-about-working-late-and-ignoring-family culture and the apartment had rats, roaches, ants, and a terrible landlord.

APL quit the job and found a new place to live. The new job—a promotion—paid $48,000 and the new apartment cost much less—$687.50 per month—as it was farther from downtown.

The job started well—awesome boss, nice people, cool work—but conditions quickly worsened once APL’s beloved boss quit.

Home life wasn’t a breeze either.

It turned out that the apartment was down the street from a music college. The constant noise, plus having to share one bathroom with five people, made life difficult. And not even APL’s room was an escape as her bed was four inches from the ceiling and her only window faced a brick wall.

As a way of escaping, APL started spending money—expensive purses and heels, a weekend getaway to the UK, a $7,000 first class flight to the Maldives—and exercising for 8 hours a day.

Things were going downhill, but APL is tough and she put herself together again. She leaned on her partner and friends for support and brought her 8 hours of exercise down to 30 minutes by switching from cardio to a heavy lifting routine.

The work situation, meanwhile, “resolved” itself as APL was laid off when her company lost a big account.

Her next job—another promotion—paid $65,000 and her new apartment—APL and her partner found their own place—was awesome without breaking the bank ($1,337.50 per month).

Three weeks in to the new job, however, APL was laid off—this was her third job, if you’re keeping track—as the client she was hired to help left the agency and APL took the summer off from job hunting.

APL then started reaching out to some contacts and one of these offered her a contract position in their agency for $52,000.

APL negotiated this up to $65,000 and when her previous company tried to hire her back, her current employer flipped her from a contractor to a full-time hire.

It was then[2] that APL’s partner introduced her to the idea of FIRE (financial independence, retire early).

But it wasn’t the right time.

APL’s mom had retired at 55 and APL wasn’t sure if she wanted to retire earlier than that or if early retirement could even work.

So I put aside that silly sounding FIRE idea—for years. I had a good job, a nice living situation and for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I was on the right track.

So that’s years one through three of APL’s nine-year journey. Let’s go on to year four (2015, if you’re a timeline person like me).

During year four, APL took a Euro trip and visited England, Scotland, Austria, and Norway. And on her return, she realized that she was working at her dream job.

Her boss was a badass woman, the hours were good, she had autonomy, and there wasn’t much bullshit or ass-kissing required.

And yet, life wasn’t all unicorns and lollipops. It then dawned on APL that not even the best job could provide the happiness and purpose she was looking for.

I came to the surprising realization that it [corporate America] makes absolutely no sense. I had bought into this mirage that your work is your purpose in life and your identity and that that is a good thing. However, I have since discovered that’s basically propaganda.

So I decided to look elsewhere for happiness.

So APL revisited the idea of FIRE and dove into it with an open mind. She read (and re-read) The Simple To Wealth by JL Collins and made a plan to retire in ten years, at 35.

Partly due to this resolution, APL and her partner decided to move to Seattle to cut costs and get away from the draining bustle of the Big Apple.

A new city meant having to find a new job and a new apartment. And APL nailed it on both accounts.

She landed a job—her fifth—which came with an $85,000 salary and found a great one-bedroom apartment with an amazing view of Mt. Rainier for $1,597.75 per month (split between her and her partner).

Luckily, this would be their only apartment in Seattle as they’d stay here for the next five years.[3]

Staying true to her resolution, APL made it a point to cut costs and her NYC budget of $30,000 dropped to $18,000 in Seattle.

Part of this was due to the reduction in rent[4] and the other part came from intentional changes, such as switching her $90 per month cellphone plan with AT&T to a $15 plan with Republic Wireless[5], eating out and drinking out less, and learning how to “travel hack”[6] to save money when traveling.

Case in point, APL travel hacked her way to free tickets from Seattle to Atlanta, as well as first class flights to Vietnam and Thailand.

But the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, as Rocky Balboa told his son. And APL was laid off again when her agency lost their biggest client.

The silver lining was that APL had seen it coming and had been looking to make a switch anyway, and she took the next four months to travel across the US while applying for jobs.

APL had a tough time landing her next job. But she kept on trucking and landed her sixth job in November of 2016. The job was fully remote (pre-COVID!) and paid $103,000, another big raise.

But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

APL maxed out her 401k in the last two months of 2016 and did the same in the first two months of 2017. And in October 2017, her net worth crossed the $200,000 mark for the first time.

We’re now on the closing stretch—APL’s sixth job would be her last one.

In 2018, she got a 4% raise and traveled to Ecuador, Portland, Atlanta, and Singapore. Even more exciting, she locked in her retirement date of October 2, 2020 and made her blog public.

In 2019, she traveled to Costa Rica, memento mori’d, walked a half marathon, and did a ton of writing on her blog.

2020 was the finish line. The retirement year APL had been looking forward to for years.

And… the world closed down. Thanks COVID! APL and her mom had to cancel their trips, but APL remained committed to retiring in October.

Stocks crashed then came roaring back, and in July, APL hit her FIRE number of $500,000.

APL quit her job in October as planned and waited out COVID in a tiny house in rural Georgia.

And so, at the age of 30, APL reached her goal of early retirement and got ready to spend 2021 traveling all over the US.

APL’s journey in numbers

Year #YearAgeIncomeSpendingNet Worth
1201222$35,000$20,000$20,439
2201323$48,000$30,000$29,545
3201424$65,000$28,365$53,352
4201525$68,000$29,344$89,450
5201626$85,000$22,518$137,612
6201727$103,037$18,436$234,822
7201828$106,763$19,191$280,884
8201929$110,034$17,896$448,230
9202030$119,579$15,886$620,767

APL’s annual contributions to her investment accounts

Year401KIRARoth IRAHSAVTSAXCash
2011-2014*$22,534$11,000$0$0$0$17,359
2015$18,000$5,500$0$3,200$16,864$?
2016$18,000$5,500$0$0$13,523$?
2017$18,000$0$5,500$0$41,500$?
2018$18,500$0$5,500$0$44,000$?
2019$19,000$0$6,000$0$43,000$?
2020$19,500$0$6,000$0$36,500$40,000
Total$133,534$22,000$23,000$3,200$195,387$40,000

*2014 was the first year APL started tracking her net worth. So this entry includes contributions from 2011 to 2014.

What I love about this table is the consistency. 401K and IRA maxed out every year. Thousands pumped into VTSAX, year after year.

It’s one thing to “know” that you should be investing; it’s another to make it happen.

Merely “knowing” keeps you weak and afraid. Making it happen—and accepting you’ll make mistakes—makes you strong, confident, and financially independent.

APL’s contributions versus her investment gains

APL has a neat post where she dives into whether her contributions or her investment gains were a bigger factor in her net worth.

Here’s what she found:

YearPortfolio StartInvestment AddInvestment Gains
2012$5,000$7,000$8,439
2013$20,439$3,000$6,106
2014$29,545$5,000$18,807
2015$53,352$43,564-$7,466
2016$89,450$37,023$11,139
2017$137,612$65,000$32,210
2018$234,822$68,000-$21,938
2019$280,884$68,000$99,346
2020$448,230$62,000$110,537
Total$358,587$257,180

At the end of 2020, her contributions made up 58% of her net worth, meaning 42% of her net worth—over $250,000—came “for free”, just from the market doing its thing.

As Rocky would say, “That’s how winning is done!”

How does APL manage and invest her money?

APL invests in 100% US stocks through VTSAX.

This means her portfolio holds no bonds or alternate investments and that all the stocks are from US companies, like Apple, McDonald’s, AT&T, etc.

She explains the reasoning behind 100% US stocks in this post.

The reasons include the increased returns from stocks over bonds, her lifestyle flexibility and ability to lower her spending during market downturns, the fact that US companies do business abroad and so give her exposure to the world’s economy, and that a one-fund portfolio is easier to manage.

APL holds her taxable investment account and her IRAs (traditional and Roth) in Vanguard and her HSA in Lively.

She uses a checking account for everyday expenses, a high-yield savings account from Ally for her cash cushion, and a Charles Schwab Investor Checking Account for free global ATM withdrawals.

Her credit card of choice is the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

See this post where she breaks this down.

How does APL withdraw money to fund her early retirement?

APL made the smart move of retiring with $40,000 in cash to serve as a cushion.

Given her annual budget of ~$20,000, this two-year cushion meant she wouldn’t have to touch her investments until 2022 at the earliest.

APL made $9,651 in 2021, however, so this cash cushion is still going strong.

These $9,651 include $2,662 in dividends from VTSAX which get deposited into her checking account, $4,077 from her blog (mainly through ads from Monumetric), a tax refund of $662, and a $1,400 stimulus payment.

Once the cash cushion runs out, APL will need to pull about $12,000 per year, given that her dividends and growing blog income will combine for about $8,000.

She’ll do this by selling the necessary number of shares of VTSAX in her taxable account.

Is $500,000 really enough to retire on?

The 4% rule says that to arrive at your “retirement number” you need to take your annual spending and multiply it by 25.

APL spends ~$20,000 per year and $20,000 times 25 is $500,000, so, as far as the 4% rule is concerned, she’s in the clear.

I’ll admit, however, that I was initially skeptical.

As ERE showed, 4% is not a sustainable withdrawal rate for a retirement spanning 60+ years. To guarantee a 95% chance of success, the withdrawal rate should be 3.5% or lower.

But APL put all my doubts to rest with her post titled Why I’m Comfortable Retiring With $500,000, where she discusses the various failsafes in her plan.

The first failsafe is the fact that her spending and lifestyle is flexible.

She has no car, no kids, no pets, and no house. And her parents don’t require her financial support. This means that her fixed expenses are $0 and that she can choose to live in low cost of living places, like Costa Rica or Thailand, if need be.

The second failsafe is that she can always go back to work.

There are lots of ways to make the small amount of money that APL requires to live. And going back to work would just mean that she had a relaxing multi-year sabbatical.

My worst case scenario is everyone else’s every day scenario.

And the third failsafe is that she’s still making money.

In 2021, her blog brought in ~$4,000 through ads. And as the blog grows in popularity, this number will likely grow. It’s not at all far-fetched to think that in a couple of years APL could be pulling in $10,000 to $20,000 a year from her blog.

So while I might not feel comfortable retiring with a 4% withdrawal rate, it’s clear that APL has given the subject lots of thought and knows exactly where she stands. She has plans and backup plans and backup backup plans as well as the confidence and resilience to make things work.

In the end, early retirement is a leap of faith. And while failure is a possibility, death is a certainty. And every day spent unhappy or away from loved ones is a missed opportunity that’ll never return.

I’m not afraid to fail, but I am afraid to spend the most active years of my life attached to a computer doing someone else’s bidding. I am afraid of running out of time with the people I love.

My main objective in retirement is to spend more time with my loved ones and I can’t do that if they’re not around. Tomorrow is never guaranteed.

What has APL been doing in retirement?

APL has been living it up.

She’s traveled all over the US, had extended stays in Thailand, Mexico, and Argentina, read 52 books in a year, published a new post every Tuesday, and all sorts of other things.

Check out her blog or Instagram, if you’re curious about her many adventures.

Where can I learn more about APL?

You can check out apurplelife.com or find her on Instagram.

To get a year-by-year breakdown of her journey to early retirement, go to her Start Here page. (highly recommend!)

To see how her net worth grew year by year, go to her Numbers page—there’s a recap for every year.

Here are here annual spending reports:

And here are here annual net worth updates:

And for the highly curious, you can read through her blog archive dating back to 2015.

Summary

There’s so much I love about APL’s journey.

Though in many ways it’s the typical FIRE arch (reduce spending, invest aggressively, use VTSAX), it’s also completely unique and super inspiring.

I mean, check out how she reduced her spending from $29,345 in 2015 to $17,715 in 2018.

Or how she maxed out her 401k and IRA every year from 2015 to 2020 and kept doggedly investing more and more into VTSAX.

Or how she’s willing to stay true to herself by not following many of the societal “musts” like getting married, having kids, buying a house, having a car, etc.

Or how she stuck to her guns and retired in 2020 and is now living her best life and seeing the world.

It’s important to have diverse voices in the FIRE community. It’s important for people of all backgrounds to feel like they have a shot at FIRE and seeing someone you relate to make it is a great way for this to happen.

I’m sure than in many ways, APL’s voice and story is more relatable and motivating to my sisters than my own.

So I tip my hat to APL and to all the people stubbornly chasing their dreams and filling this world with light instead of darkness.

Life is a mess and it’s up to us to shape it into something worth looking at.

Good luck with your canvas. And remember, we don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents.

Footnotes

  1. I cringed a little writing this paragraph. That’s a lot of labels to throw out at once. Especially about someone I haven’t met in person.

    And I’m likely ignoring all sort of other “labels” that make APL such an interesting person; labels like terrific writer, loving daughter/partner, world traveler, among many others.

    But while labels can be completely superficial, they also play an important role. See The power of labels for what I mean. ↩︎

  2. The year is now 2014. So from 2012 to 2014, APL graduated from college, moved to NYC, worked 4 different jobs, saw her salary increase from $35,000 to $65,000, and lived in two terrible apartments and one great one. ↩︎

  3. When APL left Seattle in 2020, the rent had only gone up to $1,693.94 per month. ↩︎

  4. NYC rent of $1,337.50 minus Seattle rent of $1,597.75 ÷ 2 came out to $538.63 in monthly savings—almost $6,500 in annual savings. ↩︎

  5. Another $75 saved per month, which is $900 in annual savings. ↩︎

  6. Travel hacking is “the art of signing up for travel credit cards and collecting credit card points, hotel points, and airline miles you can cash in for free flights, flight upgrades, hotel stays, and transportation” as Nomadic Matt puts it. ↩︎